Mike Schmidt is the best third baseman in baseball history.
A second-round pick out of Ohio University in the 1971 amateur draft, Schmidt made his first All-Star team in 1974 and never looked back. A grinder who got the most out of his athletic ability, he was beloved in Philadelphia, where he spent his entire 18-year career. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, was league-leader in RBI four times, and won six Silver Slugger Awards as the best-hitting third baseman in the NL. In 1980, Schmidt hit 48 home runs to set a record for third baseman that stood for 27 years. A graceful defender, Schmidt won ten Gold Gloves and was the Phillies’ emergency shortstop. He was a three-time NL MVP and was named Most Valuable Player of the 1980 World Series after leading the Phils to their first world title in franchise history. Schmidt played in a dozen All-Star Games and was voted starting third baseman on MLB’s All-Century Team in 1999. His 548 career home runs are the most ever by a player who spent his entire career with one team.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, September 27, 1949, Michael Jack Schmidt was raised in a blue collar family. After graduating Fairview High School in 1967, he attended Ohio University, a 23,000-student public college in Athens, Ohio. As a junior, Schmidt led the Bobcats to the College World Series and was named starting shortstop on the 1970 College Baseball All-American Team. Following his senior season, the Phillies selected him with the 30th overall pick of the 1971 major league draft, one spot behind George Brett, an 18-year-old shortstop out of El Segundo [CA] High School. The Phils assigned Schmidt to their Double-A affiliate in Reading, Pennsylvania, for the 1971 season. In 1972, he was promoted to the Triple-A Eugene Emeralds of the Pacific Coast League. During his two seasons in the minors, Schmidt hit 34 homers and drove in 122 runs while playing shortstop, third base, and second base. On September 12, 1972 – two weeks shy of his 23rd birthday – Schmidt made his major league debut. Four days later, he hit his first major league home run.
The Phillies were deplorable when Schmidt arrived in Philadelphia. Prior to the 1972 season, they dealt pitcher Rick Wise to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for left-hander Steve Carlton in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history. Carlton won the 1972 Cy Young Award after going 27-10 for a Phillies team that won only 59 games. Philadelphia was 32-87 when “Lefty” did not pitch. No pitcher in the 20th century won as high a portion [45.8 percent] of his team’s victories. The Phillies finished the season 37 ½ games behind the Pittsburg Pirates in the NL East. Following the 1972 season, Philadelphia dealt third baseman Don Money to make room for Schmidt in their infield. He responded by hitting 18 home runs in his first full season. In June 1974, Schmidt hit a ball off a speaker hanging from the roof of the Houston Astrodome, more than 100 feet above the field and 300 feet from home plate. The ball would have traveled over 500 feet, but ground rules at the Astrodome deemed the speaker in play, leaving the slugging third baseman with the distinction of having hit the longest single in big league history. Schmidt was named to his first All-Star team in 1974 and finished the season with 36 home runs, the first of ten seasons in which he would belt 30 or more dingers.
Led by Schmidt, the Phils went from woeful to wonderful. In the seven full seasons from 1976 to 1983, they never won fewer than 89 games and twice won 101. Philadelphia won five NL East titles, two National League pennants, and a World Series. Schmidt was the catalyst. Baseball Reference ranked him the best third baseman in the game every year from 1974 to 1983 [and again in 1986]. He hit 40 or more home runs twice during that span, and drove in over 100 runs six times in nine seasons. He also struck out a lot. Schmidt led the National league in strikeouts four times, and retired with the third-most of all time. In addition to his nifty glove and powerful bat, Schmidt could run, posting double-digit steals in eight seasons, including a career-high 29 in 1975.
How good was Mike Schmidt? In 11 seasons between 1976 and 1986, he won ten Gold Gloves as the best fielding third baseman in the NL. He was named to the All-Star Team in nine of those years and claimed three NL MVP Awards. In the seven seasons from 1980 to 1986, he earned six Silver Slugger Awards as the best-hitting third baseman in the league. And Schmidt did it without performance enhancing drugs. Playing in the pre-steroid era – a period that irreparably tarnished baseball’s image – he had three 30-homer seasons after turning 35. In 1986, at an age when most players are well past their prime, 36-year-old Mike Schmidt was the best fielder [Gold Glove], best hitter [Silver Slugger] and best player [MVP] in the National League. Schmidt hit 48 home runs in 1980, the most-ever by a third baseman. The record stood for 27 years, until a PED-infused Alex Rodriguez hit 54 to surpass the mark. It is one of several phony records A-Rod set in his scandal-plagued career.
In April 1987, Schmidt became the 14th member of major league baseball’s 500 Home Run Club, when he hit a three-run shot off of Don Robinson at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg. Batting in the top of the ninth, Schmidt’s blast put the Phils in front, 8-6, and ended up being the game-winner. Rotator cuff injuries forced him to miss much of the 1988 season, but he returned healthy the following year. However, after a poor start to the 1989 campaign, “Captain Cool” surprised many with an emotional, tearful retirement speech during an early-season road trip to the west coast. His last game was May 28, 1989. Fans voted Schmidt starting third baseman for the 1989 NL All-Star team, but he did not play, choosing simply to participate – in uniform – in the game’s opening ceremony.
Voted the greatest player in franchise history during the Phillies centennial season in 1983, Schmidt joined Carlton, Robin Roberts and Richie Asburn as the Phillies’ “Franchise Four” at the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. He and George Brett were contemporaries – Brett was the perennial starting third baseman for the American League All-Star team in the 1970’s and 1980s, and the two met in the 1980 World Series, won by the Phillies in six games. Great as he was – he is baseball’s all-time hits leader among third baseman — Brett’s lone Gold Glove, single MVP Award, and three Silver Sluggers pale in comparison to Mike Schmidt’s body of work. Mr. Schmidt was named The Sporting News 1980s Player of the Decade and had his number 20 retired by the Phillies in 1990. His statue was unveiled outside Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park in 2004 and he has been enshrined on the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. Schmidt was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 on the first ballot with 96.5 percent of the vote — at the time the fourth-highest in history.
On this date in 1976, Michael Jack Schmidt hit four consecutive home runs in a 18-16 win over the Chicago Cubs. On a windy day at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Schmidt came to bat in the fifth inning with the Phillies trailing, 13-2. He belted a two-run homer off Cubs’ ace, Rick Reuschel, then took Reuschel deep again with a solo shot in the seventh. His three-run blast off Mike Garman in the eighth brought the Phils to within one run, and the teams were tied after nine innings. In the top of the tenth, Schmidt lined a two-run bullet into the bleachers in left-center off Paul Reuschel, Rick’s brother, giving the Phillies a 17-15 lead en route to their second win of the season. Schmidt became only the fourth player in MLB history to hit four consecutive homers in one game.